Mike Leah’s Dominant Run to the Top of the Poker World

As the Coronavirus continues to wreak havoc nationwide, leaving grocery store shelves bare to near-empty, there is one Canadian, Mike Leah, who will never run short on hard work and competitiveness. His cupboards are full and, like a master chef, he’s been mixing the two together for years. A dash here, a dash there, to serve up an exquisite dish of winning. When it comes to poker, he’s 5-star Michelin quality.

Mike Leah

Mike ‘GoLeafsGoEh’ Leah has won an astounding $8 million playing cards. He sits 138th on poker’s all-time money list to join some elite company. Two Americans, Bryn Kenney ($56.4 million) and Justin Bonomo ($49.1 million), are listed #1 and #2. Fellow Canadian Daniel Negreanu is third. ‘Kid Poker’ has cashed for more than $42 million, and is one of the most recognizable faces in the game. Leah credits three things for his own success; hard work, sheer determination and the desire to win.

“It’s just competitiveness. I set goals and I think I just want to achieve success more than most people. I want to win at whatever I’m doing.”

So, what has he been doing these days? As the world panics with self-isolation, quarantine and lock down, the 45-year old Toronto native has followed suit with the rest of Canada and has been hanging out in the comforts of his own confines. For Leah though, it’s less about fear and anxiety and more about family fun. In poker parlance, with the birth of his baby boy last year, Leah’s been busy dealing with a ‘full house.’

“I’ve been spending most of my time at home anyways lately with the baby and puppy, so that time has just been extended. I’ve had to cancel a few poker trips. Of course, the WSOP being canceled would result in a major change, staying in Toronto for the summer instead of going to Las Vegas, but I did that last year as well with the birth of my child.”

State of the Game?

He doesn’t seem affected by the Coronavirus, perhaps because there is still work to be done and poker to play. With the state of all live poker in flux, one thing is for certain, the state of Leah’s game will only get better. He is diligent in his approach, and will undoubtedly be using this supposed downtime to his advantage. Never satisfied, and always looking to take his game to the next level, odds are Leah will be striving harder than his rivals to hone his skills.

“All live poker is on hold for the foreseeable future, so I expect online poker to flourish. Many new tournaments have already been added, or at least shifted to online, and I expect that to continue.”

As the world makes adjustments, so does poker. Recreational players, and pros alike, have shifted their emphasis from reading physical and verbal tells in a brick and mortar casino to clicking buttons on their computer. As Leah suggests, the online game is booming. On PokerStars for instance, this past weekend’s 14th Anniversary Sunday Million generated a tantalizing prize pool of $18,603,200, a new record for the online giant. The $12.5 million guarantee was decimated with more than 93,000 entries. The winner pockets a whopping $1,509,390. Wow.

One of the most notable poker casualties due to the virus was this year’s Irish Open. Organizers pulled the plug on the tournament a couple of weeks ago on the advice of the Irish government. Fortunately, PartyPoker has stepped up to rescue the event and will host it online from April 6-12.

Irish Open Logo

“We would like to thank PartyPoker for taking the initiative to help ensure Europe’s oldest running poker festival goes ahead during these very challenging times.” said JP McCann of the Irish Open, in a recent statement on the site. “We hope to see you for the first time ever on the virtual tables for the 40th Anniversary of the Irish Open.”

Unlike Americans, Canadians can play on both PokerStars and PartyPoker. Leah will be working night and day, and most likely clocking overtime.

Recipe for Success

Professional poker is a grind, but Leah loves his job. He studies the game, develops strategies, devises game plans, not just in general but for specific opponents too. He makes a point of learning from his mistakes, and has prepared mentally for the inevitable ups and downs that a turn of a card can bring. You couple that with his overwhelming desire to win and you’ve got a lethal combination at the poker table. The hard work has paid off with huge dividends.

In August 2014, Leah recorded his largest score ever, a whopping $1,047,638, after finishing second in the $5,300 buy-in SHR Poker Open at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. He didn’t have to wait long for his second largest, more than $700,000, which came less than six months later at the World Poker Tour’s LA Poker Classic, where he finished 2nd in the $10,000 main event.

“Timing is everything. I’ve been fortunate to win or run deep in the right tournaments. Finishing second in an event that paid $1 million, or coming second in a tourney for $700,000, that’s not easy to do. I’ve also won a tournament for more than half-a-million dollars, so I’ve been very fortunate to have great timing.”

Great timing is an understatement. You might call it uncanny. In late 2014, six weeks after recording that million-dollar payday in Florida, Leah was riding a wave of confidence as he traveled half-way across the world for the World Series of Poker Asia Pacific at the Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia. After three long days of intense poker, and after managing to navigate a field of 68 players, he won the $25,000 buy-in main event, when his king-seven dominated David Yan’s king-four on the final hand of heads-up play. Not only did he add the $527,500 first place prize to his bankroll, but also ensured his spot in the annuls of poker history by capturing his first ever WSOP gold bracelet.

The gold bracelet is a highly coveted piece of jewelry for any poker player. It’s like winning poker’s version of the Stanley Cup. Every Canadian sports fan knows what that means. Even still, whether it’s just his competitive nature or the fact he captured WSOP glory on a faraway continent, Leah was left wanting more.

“It was indeed special, but it happened in Australia not Las Vegas, and that made it feel not quite complete. Right away, I shifted my focus to winning bracelet number two.”

Mike Leah WSOP

A Winning Pattern

That kind of attitude is one of the reasons why Mike Leah has been winning most of his life. An all-star wrestler in high school, with scholarship opportunities. Instead of pursuing his athletic dreams, and a chance at the Olympics, Leah decided to enter the business world. He spent 16 years climbing the corporate ladder. Financially speaking, it was a good decision because he was winning at work too, and moved through the ranks all the way from sales rep to a lucrative managerial position.

By 2008 though, Leah had come to a crossroads in life and had to make one of the biggest, and most fateful, decisions of his life. He quit his job to play cards full-time. It was as if destiny was calling and he answered.

“I was with the same company from 1992 to 2008, so I had a great management position. I was playing a lot of poker on the side. It got to the point where I had to choose one or the other. So, I took a two-month leave of absence to play the World Series of Poker. I lined up with an investor and secured a backing deal, which gave me the security to leave my job.”

The rest, they say, is history!

If you want more, you’re in luck! Part 2 and Part 3 are available now.

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver Dewan is the founder of High Roller Radio and has interviewed a number of the world's top poker players and gamblers. A former radio and television broadcaster, Derrick was brand manager for Poker Pro Canada magazine and has written for a variety of publications, including the Toronto Star & Windsor Life.

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